Hope this semester has continued to treat you well! Again, my name is Tara Vakili and I am one of the Study Abroad Liaisons for London! In my last blog post, I talked about the five main differences that make New York and London pretty distinct from one another. Since I previously touched on a lot of points just regarding London, and because I recently came back from my spring break adventures, I want to talk to you guys both about my travels outside of London and the factors that go into planning them.
I’d say one of the biggest perks about studying abroad is the opportunity to travel to countries surrounding your study abroad site – for me, that is primarily throughout Europe. For the past three months, I have been lucky enough to travel to Amsterdam, Edinburgh and St. Andrews in Scotland, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Milan, and Bellagio, Varenna, and Como (three towns on Lake Como, Italy). My travels have been nothing short of amazing. If you have the chance to visit, or even revisit these sites, here are some recommendations:
Amsterdam: This was perhaps the most picturesque city I have visited. It was clean, peaceful, and as a result, very calming. The Anne Frank House is definitely a must – it was an eye-opening experience and one that made me pretty emotional. 100% visit this historical site. Since Amsterdam is such a relaxing city, walking around and seeing the canals is ideal. Many of the locals ride bikes everywhere, and it’s definitely worth joining in and seeing the city from a different perspective.
Scotland: The 6-hour train ride from London to St. Andrews was less than ideal, but the views made the journey worth it. While St. Andrews is a relatively small town, it is a beautiful little gem. Famous for St. Andrews University and the Old Course at St. Andrews, the oldest golf course in the world, it is a dreamy town on the water. Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, on the other hand, is a lot bigger, and gives you a different perspective on the country. It boasts both a medieval Old Town, which I prefer, and a stylish New Town with gardens and neoclassical buildings. Edinburgh Castle is home to Scotland’s crown jewels and gives you the most scenic views of the Old Town. Make sure to hike up Arthur’s Seat, the peak of a series of hills in Holyrood Park that allows you to see the entire city. But beware, if it has rained the night before, the hills will be very muddy and thus very slippery. Wear the right shoes because you will fall…I learned the hard way. But, the views were worth it.
Prague: Definitely make sure to walk around the Old Town Square and walk along the Charles Bridge. Even in the rain, it was beautiful and the hues of yellow and red in the Czech architecture made the scenery both whimsical and picturesque. Also, (Czech) out the John Lennon Wall, a colorful wall filled with Beatles-inspired lyrics and graffiti. The Czech Republic also is home to trdelník, or chimney cakes. They are made from rolled dough wrapped around a stick, grilled and topped with sugar. I recommend filling them with Nutella and strawberries – the best.
Vienna: The Schönbrunn Palace is a must-see in Vienna. As the former imperial summer residence, it is both beautiful architecturally, boasting yellow tones, and important culturally and historically. Make sure to also visit the Belvedere Palace, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and the Vienna State Opera House. Lastly, if the weather is nice, have a picnic on the grounds of the Hofburg, a former imperial palace in the heart of Vienna. Your surroundings will not disappoint.
Budapest: Out of Prague, Vienna, and Budapest, the latter is definitely my favorite city of the three. It just has this inexplicable charm to it that will definitely draw me back for another visit soon. Budapest is actually bisected into Buda and Pest by the River Danube. Either side can be reached by crossing the magnificent Chain Bridge. Walk along this bridge – the views along the river are incredible. Heroes’ Square, the Parliament building, and Buda Castle are gorgeous pieces of architecture along either side of the Danube. Castle Hill is home to both Buda Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion, one of the best lookout points of the whole city. We stayed on the Pest (east) side, which is much flatter, and home to the coolest bars, restaurants, and cafes. Buda, on the west side of the Danube, is in contrast much hillier, and boasts much of the known castles and royal architecture. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited.
Italy: Milan is a wondrous city, home to the famous Duomo, or Cathedral. Its Gothic architecture is haunting, but in the best way possible. To get a more Mediterranean feel, check out the expansive Castello Sforzesco, or the Sforza Castle. Built by the Duke of Milan, this iconic red-brick castle was home to the Sforza Dynasty, who ruled Renaissance Milan. After Milan, we visited Lake Como, which absolutely took our breaths away. The views from the three cities we visited were absolutely magnificent, and if you visit Bellagio, the biggest and perhaps most well-known of the three cities, make sure to say hi to George Clooney for me. Just kidding…not really. We seemed to have missed him the first time around. Walking around the three cities was the best thing to do – we window-shopped and ate tons of pizza, pasta, and gelato, and we were very, very content.
Traveling throughout Europe these past few months has been one of the most exciting times in my life. While it all seems very grand, school is my number one priority, so I made sure to plan my trips around my schoolwork. Some tips I have for future study abroad students: plan out your exam and homework schedules ahead of time, and if possible, finish your assignments before your trips. Schoolwork is the last thing you will want to do on weekend trips, trust me. Also, pack light! I can’t stress enough how important this is. Lugging around a suitcase for a few days isn’t too ideal, and odds are the airlines you will fly have pretty strict baggage policies. It’s not worth the hassle. Lastly, make sure you visit the places you truly want to see. Chances are you won’t get the opportunity to travel so much in such a short amount of time for a while, so take advantage if you can! If you want to go somewhere that your friends don’t necessarily have the desire to see, go by yourself! Traveling on your own can be one of the most rewarding experiences. You will learn more about yourself than you’d expect.
I could not have asked for a better semester, and can’t wait to see what’s in store for the last month or so. As always, please don’t hesitate to add me on Facebook or message me if you have any questions or just want to know more about abroad. Talk to you soon!